What a fun baseball game, even if it did not turn out in the Pirates’ favor as the Bucs lost 5-3 in 11 innings. With so much happening, let’s boil this contest down to a series of moments:
Moment 1: Brandon Cumpton walks off the field in the second inning having struck out five of his first six hitters.
“I was shocked. I had no idea. I didn’t see it coming at all. I was blindsided,” Cumpton told the media Friday when he was asked if he had any idea he would be making his Pirates (40-28) debut so soon.
The same could be said for the Los Angeles Dodgers (29-38) their first time facing Cumpton in his Major League debut. With little more than a 93 mph fastball, a breaking ball and a mound of nerves, Cumpton sliced his way through the top of the Dodgers lineup. Leadoff hitter Skip Schumaker looked at a slider that nicked the outside edge for the first K. Then Cuban phenom Yasiel Puig whiffed at a low breaking ball for the second and Adrian Gonzalez swung and missed at two fastballs and could only tip a slider for the third. Three up, three down, 36,941 stunned.
“I was trying to throw strikes early,” Cumpton said in his Georgia accent. “Fortunately, I got some swing-and-misses and that helped me out a little bit.”
More of the same eye-opening Cumpton in the second inning. Hanley Ramirez whiffed on a slider outside. Andre Ethier got two strikes before he lined out to left, the first L.A. ball in play. No matter, because Cumpton tossed a fastball and slider past Mark Ellis for Strikeout Number Five. When Cumpton went to the Pirates dugout, he probably wasn’t the only one thinking, what just happened?
“I had everything running through mind,” Cumpton said. “I was trying to take it all in. Just enjoy the moment.”
Moment No. 2: The Pirates get one run across on the throwing error that wasn’t.
The Pirates had to bunt and scratch to get their only run off former Cy Young Award winner. First Pittsburgh hitter Alex Presley hit a sharp grounder just inside the third-base line for a double then was bunted over.
Kershaw walked Andrew McCutchen and Gaby Sanchez and almost drew an easy inning-ending double play, but shortstop Ramirez’s throw flew away and Presley scored. Originally the play was ruled an error, but Martin ended up with the RBI for the 1-0 Pirates lead.
“We wanted to add on more, give [Cumpton] a little bigger safety net than one run,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said with a laugh, but Neil Walker struck out on a slider to strand two runners.
Moment No. 3: Cumpton is removed to an ovation, but a deficit.
On his second time through the L.A. lineup, Cumpton began to fall behind on hitters and he said the Dodgers were sitting on his fastball. A couple mistakes and missed spots went for hits, including five of the last seven hitters.
“We were definitely making adjustments,” Cumpton said. “I had every confidence in the world in everything [catcher Russell Martin] was throwing down there. I was going right with it.”
Hurdle said Cumpton “matched” Kershaw through five innings with good poise but would not commit to the right-hander beyond this start. Despite giving up hits to the first three batters in the 6th, and ending up charged with three runs, Cumpton got a standing ovation walking back to the dugout at the end.
“It was everything and even more than what I expected,” Cumpton said.
Moment No. 4: Russell Martin gets robbed.
The first two runners in the 6th reached on Kershaw, then Martin worked the count full and drove a belt-high fastball 383 feet to left-center and no further. Skip Schumaker was there to reach over the short wall and slam into it as he caught the possible g0-ahead home run. Kershaw took full advantage of the web gem to strike out Neil Walker looking and get Pedro Alvarez to ground out.
Kershaw struck out the Pirates’ side 1-2-3 in the 7th inning to end his quality, Kershawian start: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 8 K to lower his league-best ERA down to 1.84 on the season.
Moment No. 5: Brandon Inge’s season OPS falls below Miguel Cabrera’s season OBP.
Inge’s .446 OPS would be the lowest by a Pirates player with more than 75 plate appearances since Brian Bixler in 2008.
Before the game, Hurdle said, “I’m trying to give Inge some opportunities to get some type of consistency with at-bats, because we need his bat in play coming off the bench.”
Moment No. 6: Justin Wilson hits 100 miles per hour.
Your future Pirates closer?
Moment No. 7: Once Kershaw was away, the Pirates… fell short.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly went with rookie right-hander Chris Withrow, in his second Major League appearance, for a high-leverage mission: protect a two-run lead agains the heart of the Pirates order. Leadoff hitter Jordy Mercer climbed aboard with a single just over Ramirez’s head, then the control-challenged Withrow (5.0 walks per nine innings over Double-A and Triple-A) walked McCutchen and threw a wild pitch to get the tying run into scoring position.
Withrow froze Sanchez and Martin with breaking pitches to keep the runs from scoring. Even though Neil Walker followed up with an RBI single, the Bucs could only scare up one run from the key situation.
“Those are at-bats they probably would like to have back,” Hurdle said. Indeed, as his offense left 13 runners on base while getting only 3 to score.
For the record, Hurdle thought about using Garrett Jones to pinch-hit for Sanchez there, but pointed out he would have drawn left-handed Paco Rodriguez. For the same record, Sanchez went 0-for-3 against the three right-handed relievers he faced, bringing his season batting average to .203 against righties.
Moment No. 8: Travis Snider brings the boom stick to tie it up.
Snider entered in the 7th inning, but his winning-time moment came in the 9th against sometimes-closer-but-always-hard-throwing Kenley Jansen. With a 2-2 count, Snider blasted a fastball into seats. Tie ballgame and his first extra-base hit in 14 games.
“If you get a fastball in the zone, you gotta put a good swing on it no matter how many strikes you have,” Snider said.
Moment No. 9: Nick Leyva holds up Russell Martin.
Relievers Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon held the Dodgers hitless and scoreless for five innings, and the opportunity to snatch the victory arrived in the 10th.
With two outs, Martin drew a six-pitch walk off Chris Moylan. Then Walker pulled a pitch down the right-field line. Here comes Martin around second base with Puig and his already notorious arm heading for the baseball. Third base coach Nick Leyva throws up the stop sign. Puig’s throw is hard but misses the cutoff man and ends up halfway down the third-base line. The Pirates might have won.
“You can’t tell the ball is going over [the first baseman’s] head,” Hurdle said. “Where that catcher got the ball, I’m not sure Russell’s past him even when he gets there. I don’t know.”
As it was, Puig’s arm was respected and Michael McKenry stranded two runners by flying out.
Moment No. 10: The End
Vin Mazzaro allowed a leadoff double to Andre Ethier (his game-high third hit) then two more hits that allowed the Dodgers to build a two-run lead in the 11th for closer Brandon League. It wasn’t easy, though. Once again with a pair of infield singles and a wild pitch, the Bucs had the tying run in scoring position. But McCutchen grounded out and Sanchez flew out on a ball Schumaker had to hustle to grab. Great game, but game over.